It’s Halloween: a day for ghosts, ghouls and spooks alike.
Along with dressing up and carving pumpkins, Halloween is a time when we subject ourselves to fear we’d avoid on any regular day. We expose ourselves to the things that make us jump and our skin crawl: spiders, darkness, clowns and haunted houses. But how can pleasure derive from the feeling of fear?
“People like the adrenaline rush of going to a haunted house. They like the thrill,” said second-year Ryerson business student, Julien Dranitsaris. “There’s an assured safety of being in a haunted house, but there’s still that adrenaline rush. So I guess people like to go to get their heart pumping.”
Psychology professionals suggest that Halloween is an ideal occasion to indulge in fear because it’s a safe environment to do so. American sociologist and fear expert, Margee Kerr, said that when we experience fun fear, such as a haunted house, “we are hijacking our threat response and reinterpreting it as fun, as excitement and it becomes a positive, high arousal state rather than a negative one.”
To experience some ‘fun’ fear ourselves, the Ryersonian took a field trip to Screemers, a haunted house scream park that claims to be the scariest Halloween exhibit in Toronto.
Fields of Horror is one of the seven haunted houses featured at this year’s edition of Screemers. It is a personal favourite of Andrew Gidaro, the general manager, who designs and creates all of the haunted mazes and houses.
The Ryersonian crew walks through Screemers’ Fields of Horror. (Video by Natasha Hermann)
“I made a new haunt (…) it’s based on Christmas. It’s a scary Christmas,” Gidaro said. “We call it the Un-Holy Night. It’s my newest creation and my pride and joy right now.”
Screemers was the brainchild of Gidaro’s parents, Ardo Gidaro and Roseanna Tilford, who opened Screemers when Gidaro was 9-years-old. The family owned a carnival business and stepped into the horror genre when they bought their first haunted house on a farm near Niagara Falls. The company now sees over 20,000 visitors a season, who flock to Exhibition Place seeking thrills and chills.
This Halloween, Screemers celebrates it’s 25th anniversary. Gidaro says that Screemers is reaching its prime in scare, but it has taken time for the company to evolve into its current self.
“We tried to be for kids at the beginning, then we realized, ‘We need to be more scary.’ I think maybe because it’s more fun,” Gidaro said.
Gidaro said that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why people love to be scared, though he thinks it may be the thrill we get from reveling in risky behaviour.
“It’s taboo, things you shouldn’t do. It’s why you go on a roller coaster, or why you go bungee jumping or skydiving. It’s the danger,” Gidaro said. “Maybe less dangerous than skydiving, in that there’s not that actual element of perhaps something that can go wrong, but it’s the same idea. People like to get that feeling of living on the edge.”
Andrew Gidaro talks with the Ryersonian about creating Fields of Horror, and Screemers’ 25th anniversary celebration. (Video by Natasha Hermann)
While Gidaro’s fear tactics are rooted in what you see, John Tarver, an instructor at Ryerson’s school of image arts, will tell you that true fear comes from what you can’t.
“Darkness. The more you don’t see, the more you leave to the imagination of the audience,” Tarver said. “What we imagine is always scarier than what we can see.”
An award-winning cinematographer, Tarver has worked on sci-fi and horror films, most notably the slasher-mystery movie Shallow Ground (2004). An expert in lighting and imagery, Tarver said the most successful horror films that truly frighten their audiences never resort to endless carnage, but use psychological fear.
Comparing the Saw franchise (2004-17), a textbook example of ‘torture porn’, and The Ring (2002), a psychological horror, Tarver says that The Ring is the scarier film because while we tend to have a high threshold for gory movies, psychological horror plays into human fears and is “built on suspense and built on the psychology of the characters.”
While only one per cent of Canadians say that they are scared of the dark, according to a recent survey by the Angus Reid Institute, Tarver said that darkness is the best way to stoke fear in a viewer.
“Why are kids afraid of the dark at night? Kids get creeped out naturally by being alone in the dark and they want to have a little light on next to their bed,” Tarver said. “There’s something hardwired into our psychology about night-time and darkness that makes us feel insecure, but it does probably have to do with the fact that we can’t see what’s happening, what’s going on, what’s lurking and is hidden, and then our imagination fills in that dark space.”
However you get your fill of fear during Halloween – either watching a scary movie or running through a haunted house – don’t forget to creep it real.